Seumas Milne, George Monbiot & ‘Media Analysis’ In The Guardian WonderlandOne of the original aims of Media Lens, when we began in 2001, was to engage in honest, open and rational debate with journalists working for major news organisations. It wasn’t about ‘bashing’ them or trying to make them look bad. We wanted to examine media assumptions, challenge journalists’ arguments and find out more about the unwritten rules of ‘responsible’ reporting.
One of the aspects of journalism that we find particularly fascinating is the extent to which even the best, most honest or most radical journalists can push back the mainstream walls enclosing media debate. How dissenting are they really permitted to be? And how might their presence in the media underpin the public’s perception of a ‘free press’?
As we noted in Newspeak in the 21st Century, the journalist Jonathan Cook addressed these points in an eye-opening reply to one of our media alerts. Cook, who previously worked for the Guardian and the Observer, agreed with us that the most consistently challenging voices are systematically filtered out of the mainstream. He asked:
The thrust of Milne’s proud boast was that the Guardian had bravely hosted a ‘full range of views’ that had been ‘blanked’ by most other media, attracting hostility and even vitriol from right-wing quarters. But this was a selective and conveniently self-serving assessment, closer to corporate marketing than honest accounting, as we put to him in an email two days later:
As I said at the start, your article was not totally wide of the mark. But it also fits with the relentless marketing of the Guardian as a supposedly open and power-scrutinising flagship newspaper of fearless journalism. The evidence that we’ve presented in two books (Guardians of Power and Newspeak) and hundreds of media alerts in the past ten years clearly shows otherwise.
Almost three weeks later we still hadn’t heard back from Milne, so we nudged him. He apologised and said that he’d been on holiday ‘and then came straight back into party conferences. Will reply when have a window.’ (Email, September 27, 2011)
Almost two months later, during which time he’d continued to publish articles in the Guardian, we asked him when he might reply. He told us that he’d been ‘operating a bit below capacity’ after recovering from an operation, ‘so everything takes longer than usual, but will try and send something in next week or two’. (Email, November 22, 2011). We replied at once, sincerely wishing him a full recovery.
Just over two weeks later, and not having heard from him, we emailed Milne again following a piece he’d published on the rising threat of war against Iran:
- A recent Guardian editorial asserting: ‘It really is time to drop the pretence that Iran can be deflected from its nuclear path.’
- Julian Borger’s blog, with an appalling accompanying photograph helpfully depicting a giant mushroom cloud.
- Julian Borger again, giving prominence to a quote from an unnamed ‘source close to the IAEA’.
- And let’s not forget Simon Tisdall, in a disgraceful Guardian front page story in 2007.
Still no response.
In the meantime, on December 19, 2011, Milne published a good historical analysis titled, ‘The "Arab spring" and the west: seven lessons from history’.
Milne’s case studies of British imperialism and media propaganda focused on the 1930s (Libya and Palestine), the 1950s (Iraq, Libya, Iran, Tunisia, Syria and Egypt) and the 1960s (Aden).
Welcome as this article was, we have yet to see an equivalent Guardian piece from Milne, or anyone else on the paper, examining the West’s recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, how they fit into the age-old imperialist framework and, crucially, the role played by corporate news media, including the Guardian, in paving the propaganda path; and then allowing politicians to get off the hook afterwards. Readers may recall, for example, the Guardian’s shameful editorial calling for Tony Blair to be re-elected in 2005.
We recognise that Seumas Milne was no doubt under pressure after a recent operation (although he was continuing to publish articles regularly). But even bearing this in mind, not to respond to the issues in our initial email after four months, despite repeated promises to do so, is disappointing.
George Monbiot As Don Quixote: Tilting At Safe TargetsAs we saw at the beginning of this alert, the Guardian's George Monbiot is one of very few mainstream journalists who is regarded as fearlessly honest and progressive. His many supporters would surely expect that he would be willing and able to tell the unadorned truth about the media.
As he launched into a recent article under the stirring title, ‘The corporate press are fighting a class war, defending the elite they belong to’, it looked like readers were in for something special:
And – alas - there was the fatal flaw in his approach. Perching on a horse and pointing a blunt lance at ‘corporate barons’, while overlooking the systemic failings of the whole corporate media system, is symptomatic of many a failed quest. The knight-errant Monbiot is no different in this regard from a multitude of other commentators writing for the corporate press.
Thus, Monbiot was happy to make jabs at the Mail, Express and Telegraph newspapers for their puff pieces on celebrities and pathetic attacks on the weak in society. And he was keen to hurl deprecations at the weekly Spectator magazine for its ignorance on climate change. These are all easy right-wing media targets. But with just a passing comment about the BBC, and nothing at all about the supposedly ‘liberal press’ - not least his own paper, the Guardian – the valiant adventurer missed the most important targets.
There was not a single word in Monbiot's article about the Guardian's scandalous 2005 support for Blair's re-election; the paper’s war-mongering over Iran (take a special bow, Simon Tisdall); Monbiot's thoughts on Western intervention in Libya and Syria (his mutism on these vital issues has been stunning); the Guardian’s crippling dependence on advertising (which he has, to his credit, discussed in the past, albeit in limited fashion: see here and here); and the paper’s corporate and establishment links.
One astute reader, somehow evading the over-zealous censoring Guardian ‘moderators’ on the ‘Comment is Free’ website, noted accurately:
‘The truth is, at bedrock ,you are all pro capitalist market fundamentalists. Some of you are open about it. Others, like the Guardian and Ed Miliband, fake opposition.’
SUGGESTED ACTIONThe goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Please write to:
Seumas Milne, Guardian columnist
George Monbiot, Guardian columnist
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